Archive of ‘Women’s Travel’ category


It was glorious to spend October days in Sirmione…a magical destination on the tip of Lake Garda, Lombardy…


So many pleasures are contained in the historic center of this tiny treasure-of-a-peninsula, surrounded by the lake. It’s pedestrian only, and you can actually leisurely stroll from top to bottom in about 20 minutes…

The best way to arrive is by ferry from Desenzano del Garda…another charming lakeside town that has a lot of major train connections–that is, you can train from there to Venice in 1.5 hours. Then you cab to the port, catch the Sirmione ferry...CLICK FOR SCHEDULE…





Dominating the whole pretty scene is the 13th century Scaliger Castle, that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle at Disneyworld…




I loved my stay at Hotel Sirmione, with this view from my room at sunrise…

And to make me feel like a true principessa, there are thermal springs in this part of the lake, pumped into the hotel’s lakeside pool…

OR for the complete Sirmione spa experience, a short walk away is AQUARIA, with indoor/outdoor pools, treatment rooms, saunas, relaxing rooms, where you bliss out with views of the lake…
Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours Italy, For Women Only Tours, Small Group Tours Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Sirmione gets filled with tourists during the day, mostly European. It’s a great place for family fun…You can stroll in the center amidst antique shops and caffes…
20171003_093822463_iOSFurther on is a lovely park, where you’re serenaded by birdsongs…

Of course, I always have my antenna up for the HERSTORY angle...Maria Callas had a villa here, and is fondly remembered…

AND  there’s a church of Santa Maria della Neve where one evening there was a Free Concert: a soprano singing Puccini arias…totally magical. It’s fun to take a 25-minute circle ride around the peninsula for 12 euros, that takes you under the Castle drawbridge…

And then stop at one of the many gelaterias, for special Sirmione-style giant cones…
Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours Italy, Small Group Tours for Women, Women's Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

AND to take you back to Roman Imperial days (1st century AD), you can discover the ruins of the Grotte of Catullo at the tip of the peninsula. It’s strangely named, as this isn’t a grotto, and the pleasure-loving Roman poet Catullus did not live here–though he was from Verona, and his family had a villa in Sirmione. Now you’ll find the most extensive site of northern Italian Roman ruins here…When I visited, there were few tourists, and what a joy to wander amidst those ancient walls and olive trees one morning…
20171004_072800743_iOSAs for dining, we loved the half-board option at Hotel Sirmione, where every night there was fresh fish, delicious pasta, Veneto wines.
And for a splurge, we had an extraordinary dinner at  La Rucola, beloved for sophisticated twists on the classics…such as this seafood-spinach risotto…


Wishing you Happy Travels in Italy, and I do hope you get to SIrmione…






APRIL: Sacred Month of Venus, Goddess of Love and Beauty

Buona Primavera = Happy Spring!

The Romans considered April the Sacred Month of Venus, Goddess of Love, Beauty, Fertility, and Sex…

Her presence is eternal…you see her all over Italy, in sculptures, paintings. You feel her spirit beckoning you to lighten up, enjoy all the flavors and pleasures…Here in the Uffizi in Florence is the Botticelli painting of her being born from the sea…Botticelli's Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, Florence

The Romans believed they were the chosen descendants of this beauty. As Virgil wrote in the Aeneid, it was Venus who seduced a Greek mortal and thus became the grandmother of Romulus and Remus, those twins suckled by a she-wolf on Rome’s Palatine Hill, who founded the Eternal City. Here she is in Rome’s Capitoline Museum, in her own private niche..

Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Women's Tours to Italy,Here she is in the Naples Archaeological Museum, as Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks…

Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours to Italy, Italy Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoHere she is in The House of Venus, Pompeii — FINALLY opened after restoration, a Must-See!

Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours to Italy, Italy Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoIt’s no wonder Italy brings us such happiness, with this Goddess in charge!

For more places where Venus, her sister Goddesses, Madonnas, and heroines are adored…check out 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go…

Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel





Golden Day 136: Bernalda, Basilicata with Dream of Italy’s Kathy McCabe

On a hilltop in the southeast corner of Basilicata, sits the medieval village of Bernalda…

BERNALDA -= OVERVIEWI became intrigued by this spot in 2012. That’s when Francis Ford Coppola opened his newly-renovated 5-star Palazzo Margherita here. Coppola’s grandfather Agostino was born in Bernalda, and left in 1904, never to return.


I’m grateful to have a friend who visited– Kathy McCabe, Editor of Dream of Italy newsletter, and Producer/Host of the fabulous PBS Dream of Italy TV series. She’s here to share her experience of this extraordinary place…

BERNALDA - KATHY McCABE“The town itself is like being in Italy in the 1950s,” she says. Coppola calls it “the real Italy.”

Bernalda, Basilicata, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy Tours, Women's Tour Italy

The unassuming Palazzo Margherita entrance opens to “a surprising oasis”…lush, blooming gardens, fountains…

Bernalda, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Susan Van Allen, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

The 9-room hotel feels more like a home, stunningly designed by Coppola and daughter Sofia, in partnership with French interior designer Jacques Grange. Local artisans and restorers worked to incorporate original elements (floor tiles and chandeliers) of the 1892 palazzo, and every guest room is unique. Here’s Sofia’s room:
Bernalda, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Italy Tours, Women's Travel, Kathy McCabe

A highlight of Kathy’s stay, offered free to every guest, was a cooking class in the Palazzo kitchen, where it’s delightful to learn the local pasta specialty: ear-shaped orechiette
Bernalda, Basilicata, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Italy Tours, Women's TravelAnd for after dinner entertainment, there’s a screening salon, with a selection of 300 classic Italian films and documentaries…

If you’re not staying at Palazzo Margherita, you can still go to the Cinecitta Caffe, next door, that’s open to the public. When Coppola is around, you’re very likely to find him sitting there.

Bernalda, Basilicata, Francis Ford Coppola, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Susan Van Allen

Kathy’s interview with the award-winning director at the Palazzo will be featured in Season 2 of PBS’s Dream of Italy series…

Bernalda, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Francis Ford Coppola, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy tours, Italy travel, Women's Travel

Exploring Bernalda, you can also enjoy a visit to the 15th century Castello….

Bernalda, Castello, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

Refresh yourself deliciously at Gelateria Novecento, Corso Umberto Primo 246…
And go to Barbacoa, Via Carioli 7, 338 739 830, that serves high quality grilled meats and has an extensive collection of wines…


Grazie Kathy!

We’re looking forward to seeing more of this in the upcoming PBS Dream of Italy show…To read Kathy’s full story of her stay at Palazzo Margherita, and for great insider’s advice about Italian travel, subscribe to the Dream of Italy newsletter,



NEW EDITION – 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go

susan-van-allen-Italy-Florence-100-Places-Every-Woman-Should-GoCiao Amici!
I’m so grateful that 2016 included the release of the Third Edition of “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go.” Wonderful surprises have come into my life since this book first hit the stands in 2009. It’s been thrilling to hear from travelers who enjoyed discovering new places and experiences through its pages, and that the book added so much fun to their Italian travels.

100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Women Only Tours

Here’s a Sneak Preview/Excerpt…
It’s the Perfect Gift for the Italophile in your life…
AVAILABLE at your Local Bookstore, AMAZON, and BARNES & NOBLE


I fell in love with Italy at a dining room table in Newark, New Jersey. It was Nana and Papa’s dining room, my maternal grandparents—immigrants from Southern Italy. The walls were painted in a pale-rose stenciled pattern, the table spread with an ivory-colored lace cloth. On the mahogany sideboard sat a soccer-ball-sized jar of wild cherries marinating in syrup, next to a Capodimonte lamp, with porcelain figures of fancy ladies in flouncy dresses fanning themselves under the shade. A soprano on the hi-fi sang “Un Bel Di Vedremo”—“One Beautiful Day We’ll See Each Other.”

Nana, with her apron tied up under her marshmallow-baggie arms, lit the candles. My mother and aunts carried in platters heavy with mozzarella, roasted peppers, shiny black olives, steaming bowls of macaroni. I sat propped up on a telephone book, clinking my tumbler of half-red wine/half-water along with the grown-ups toasting, “Salute!” By the time the feasts were finished, the candles had burnt to their bottoms, dripping onto the lace cloth. Papa poured Strega, a golden liqueur, into curvy glasses, and sliced a dome-shaped, slathered-with-whipped-cream rum cake.

This was my first Italy: a big, delicious, loving heart.

Every August Papa would get on a ship to visit his sisters who still lived near Naples. He’d send back postcards of statues and churches. He’d return after Labor Day with beads from Venice, rosaries blessed by the Pope, rocks from Mount Vesuvius.

Italy became magical and mysterious, beckoning me—a billowy cartoon finger wafting out of a pot of bubbling tomato sauce.

When I got there for the first time in 1976, I arrived in Roma Termini with a pack on my back and a bursting anticipation. The trip was a sweltering August blur of standing awestruck in the Sistine Chapel, tasting my first gelato, getting my bottom pinched. Naturally there was romance: on the train I’d met a bel ragazzo named Luciano who’d sat across from me in the compartment. We fell madly in love for forty-eight hours and rendezvoused in the Forum: moonlight, a Chianti bottle with a straw-covered bottom, two nineteen-year-olds singing Beatles songs to each other.

Feeling transformed into a woman of the world, I headed to my Roman cousins where I was embraced with smothering-lovering and seated at their dining room table, coming full circle to my childhood Italy.

The spell was cast. Italy grabbed hold of my heart forever. Over these many years it’s drawn me back, again and again.

Tonight as I’m sitting here in an apartment on Rome’s Piazza Paradiso, way past bedtime, even for Italy, I’m realizing there’s been absolutely no logic to my times here. The trips started off with visits to the major sights in the big cities, but then out went the plans, and instinct flung me to such spots as a classroom near Rome’s Colosseum where I struggled to tackle the subjunctive, a quiet farm road in Puglia surrounded by old olive trees, dancing at the Excelsior in Florence with my husband one New Year’s Eve.

I became the “girlfriend with the lists”—scribbling down places I’d loved visiting and passing them along to my traveling pals. If I was back in the States counting the days till my next trip, I lived in Italy vicariously—knowing that Babs was in Rome seeing all those provocative Bernini sculptures with my notes in hand, Sheila at a glove shop in Florence, Louise drinking wine at my favorite bacaro in Venice.

When the opportunity to write this book came along, so did elation, gratitude, and then a freezing panic. How could I choose 100 out of the infinite pleasures I’d experienced in Bell’Italia? So let’s just get the most obvious fact out of the way: there are more places than any one book could hold. I’ve even left out some of the most obvious—such as the Sistine Chapel, Pisa, and Michelangelo’s David—things well covered in other guidebooks.

In these pages, I’m sharing with you some places from my list of favorites, along with those my savvy Italian and American friends have raved to me about. I’ve put a spotlight on goddesses, the Madonna, female saints, beauties who’ve inspired masterpieces, women who’ve taken power. After all, isn’t the fact that women have been worshipped here for thousands of years one of the reasons we love Italy so much? Though in modern times females haven’t yet triumphed as far as business and political realms go, as Luigi Barzini in The Italians says: “Men run the country, but women run men.” Here where la famiglia is the power source, women are at the core of it.

What about your male traveling partners? They’re likely to enjoy a lot of these places, too, whether it’s a museum, beach, or spots for adventure and learning. Okay, the guys probably won’t be into buying lace in Rapallo, but they’ll certainly enjoy Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks in Naples!

Italy seduces both sexes, with irresistibly feminine appeals. Shaped like a boot we’d love to strut around in, she transforms herself as she transforms travelers. She’s the nurturing mama, the drop-dead-gorgeous vixen, the compassionate spirit. She’s even the unreliable girlfriend who exasperates you with travel snafus, but you forgive her because she’s so darn charming. She’s constantly coaxing, “Come on, lighten up and enjoy my beauties and flavors.”

Treat this book like a cookbook. What do you want a taste of? Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? The best chocolate in Rome? A ceramic painting class in Deruta? A wine therapy spa treatment in the Veneto? Allow your mood to be your guide, savoring the experience Italian style, letting it unfold with an unhurried Old World pace.

To make a full meal of it, I’ve included suggestions for Golden Days—matching a place to a nearby restaurant, just like I do when I send out lists to girlfriends. These are only suggestions, because each of us has our own deeply personal experience of encountering Italy.

But as unique as each encounter is, I’m amazed at always hearing, even from travelers without a drop of Italian blood in them, the same words: “It felt like home.” Home, in the sweeping sense of a place that brings peace and comfort, a place that stirs the soul.

For me, Italy brings back that childhood dining room table feeling. It sneaks up on me now, looking out the window of this apartment in late-night Rome. There’s a light shining on a little Madonna altar across the way, her robe the same rose as those dining room walls. Out of the shadows, from a nearby restaurant, comes a dark-haired signorina, walking as if she absolutely knows she’s a descendant of Venus, with her Adonis—a bel ragazzo in a leather jacket—linked to her side. They stop for a smooch under the Madonna, pressing up against each other as if this was their last night on earth.

Italy, once again, playing an endless beautiful song.

My wish for you is to enjoy her many places of pleasure, wherever your desires lead you to go.

—Susan Van Allen



GOLDEN DAY 135: Acerenza, Basilicata, Part Two

Outside Acerenza’s historic center, grazie to Salverio Cancerllera and Antonella D’Andria, I met some of the village’s finest artisans…In a cave at Le Cantine del Grillo..
20160527_160122624_iosThere was rich, soulful Aglianico…straight out of the barrel…
20160527_154701275_ios20160527_154946114_iosNext was Il Re dei Panettoni=King of Panettone, Vincenzo Tiri, at his humble, family run bakery…

20160527_162528374_iosVincenzo rocked the Panettone World, twice winning the Grand Prize in Milan for this Christmas time sweetbread…a triumph for this young, 35-year old baker in a remote southern region, AND quite a surprise, as Panettone is a specialty of the north…


Making Vincenzo’s parents in this family run bakery, (since 1957), very proud…


Tiri’s panettone is a taste bud revelation. He’s a genius/master, starting with dough that rises for 40 hours, mixing it with local products–candy-ing fruit from the nearby orchards. This one that I tasted was flavored with white chocolate and espresso=DIVINE and not just for Christmas!


And finally, it was time to meet The Magician=Antonio Saluzzi at his workshop…Décor Saluzzi…

20160527_181101529_ios-copyFollowing age-old traditions, with passion and incredible skill, he creates…

20160527_172506992_ios20160527_173349338_ios20161116_210835935_iosA lovely agriturismo nearby is La Loggia del Monaco , beautifully set in the countryside with  with a view of Acerenza on the hill in the distance, a great restaurant…

20160527_145000559_iosAnd welcoming host, Rocky Calitri…

Go and visit this treasure of Basilicata! One of the treasured  Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia in this beautiful country…


Golden Day 131: Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa with My Bella Basilicata


valerie3Valerie Fortney-Schneider is a freelance writer with years of experience in the travel industry, and a history degree, who returned to her roots and created the company, My Bella Basilicata.  She guides travelers through the region and is also the woman to go to for genealogy research. Guests rave about the memorable vacations she creates for them, where they can go beyond finding birth or death records, to the villages where their ancestors were from, walk the streets and talk to the natives, sometimes find the houses where their grandparents lived and even distant relatives. Her writing showcases her passion for Basilicata, in various publications and websites such as International Living.

I’m so grateful she’s joined in to give her advice for Golden Days in the Dolomiti Lucane towns of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa.



These are two towns wedged in the rocky peaks of the “Little Dolomites” of Basilicata.  It’s a great place for adventure-lovers to enjoy outdoors activities…

Castelmezzano from aboveCastelmezzano means “Middle castle,” a Norman settlement between the castles of Pietrapertosa and Brindisi Montagna. Pietrapertosa is the highest town in the region and was settled by Arabs who built a crowded network of streets and houses in the rocks, called the Arabata quarter. The elevation gives gorgeous views and the vast forests of the Gallipoli-Cognato National Park offer a wealth of trails for hikers. Both are beautiful and offer a different kind of atmosphere than most medieval hill towns.PietrapertosaThese two towns look at each other across a deep ravine and remained isolated for centuries, until they linked together by way of a zipline. The High-wire Volo dell’Angelo (Via Maestri del Lavoro 19, 3319340456) is a thrilling flight that is as close to free flying as I’m ever going to get, an adrenaline rush that is also oddly calming as you glide over spectacular scenery with birds and clouds above you, and gorgeous countryside below.01_volodellangelo_coppiaIf you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, there is a nice hiking trail that connects the towns called the Sette Pietre (7 stones) that is studded with 7 stone sculptures and takes you down to the ravine and back up the other side.  Plan about 1.5 to 2 hours each way,  walking at a moderate pace.083d8082944cb5679bcc1adb05d3a80b


In Pietrapertosa, walk through the lanes of the Arabata and to the ruins of the castle.  You”re almost guaranteed to see eagles and hawks overhead.  In Castelmezzano, stroll all the way through the tangle of streets and up to where the castle once sat on the crest.  You’ll see the footholds carved in the rocks that in days gone by, were handy for residents to scramble up for better surveillance over possible invaders.  At the overlook you can see for miles – as far as the Ionian Sea on a clear day!

Castelmezzano from Pietropertosa (2)These towns are both magical at night with the suffused light and the rock formations, and provide excellent star-gazing!  With almost no light pollution and the high elevation, you can see a dazzling array of stars.

foto pietraIn Pietrapertosa the Orsa Minore is a good gathering spot with a terrace, where you can enjoy a glass of wine, a gelato, or a cappuccino and cornetto, sort of the “one stop shop” kind of welcoming bar. It is also the reception for the Albergo diffuso Costellazioni


In Castelmezzano there are two bars on the main street through town where you can rub elbows with the locals and enjoy their warm welcomes and friendly attention.  You’re likely to be taken by the hand by somebody during your stay and invited home for a coffee or wine! It’s that kind of a town!

be0841e21e82a81f59e7883657f2691fIn Castelmezzano’s historic center is the delectable restaurant Al Becco della Civetta, with a panoramic patio out back that looks at the horseshoe shape of the town with the peaks behind it.  They use seasonal ingredients and regional recipes and give them a bit of flair. Order anything with the locally-loved cardoncelli mushrooms, the locally-produced cheese, caciocavallo podolico, and the homemade cavatelli with crispy-fried peppers (called peperoni cruschi).

Fusilli with bread crumbs and peperoni cruschi

Fusilli with bread crumbs and Peperoni Cruschi

Outside town is an agriturismo called Grotta della Eremita where you can enjoy their free-range meats, like pork cooked in aglianico wine or their farm-raised rabbit with wild fennel.  (My mouth is watering thinking about it!)

U912VA_PK00769227_photo2_7 5525549

In Pietrapertosa, La Locanda di Pietra is something special with its rustic rooms and rural simplicity (which means good food!)  The handmade pasta with truffles and pecorino is incredible, as is the savory grilled podolico tagliata steak.

la-locanda-di-pietraDown below town is a down-home agriturismo, I Sapori del Parco, with a fixed price super-abundant meal of home-grown and home-cooked local dishes that will leave you stuffed and satisfied (and wanting to hike those trails to work off the meal!) 

Pietrapertosa has an albergo diffuso, a fabulous concept where suites are scattered around the village in renovated buildings. This one is whimsically done and called Le Costellazioni, subtitled “Sulla Riva del cielo” for grander effect (on the edge of heaven).  The suites are cozy and you get to feel like you’re living like a local for a night or two.


In Castelmezzano, the nicely outfitted Locanda Castromediano(Via Michele Volini, 50, 85010 Castelmezzano PZ, Italy) is easy to find and comfortable and rooms look out at the arched outline of town and the Dolomiti Lucane mountains.  

5358670Spring is a beautiful time to visit with wildflowers in the meadows and hills.  The Volo dell’Angelo opens the first of May.

ValeriePostFlight ValinflightSummer brings festivals and events to enjoy, and the nights are cool despite the heat of the day.  A special festival in Pietrapertosa is the Arab Nights (called Sulle Tracce degli Arabi) where they pay homage to their Arab roots with a taste of the orient in food, dance and pyrotechnics.

03_pietrapertosa_sulletraccedegliarabi_2014  Autumn brings harvest festivals and woodland goodies like mushrooms, truffles and chestnuts…96bb8d3e18860d9d4de026f32d3114a6

Grazie Mille, Valerie! Check out her website My Bella Basilicata for guidance on visiting this stunning region!

P.S. — I’m grateful to report I visited these villages in May-with a warm welcome from Pietrapertosa’s Mayor Pasquale Stasi and Antonella Amico, a darling signorina who is a native of Castelmezzano and runs the Volo del’Angelo there…


It was a joy to climb around the ruins of the Castelmezzano castle and the old tower/fortress in Pietrapertosa…


20160525_171804302_iOSWith Vice-Mayor Rocco joining in…


Church bells, Sunset, Fantastic Views all around…another Paradise in Italy discovered…

These villages are part of a group called I Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia–The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy–CLICK FOR MORE INFO to discover these treasures…


Golden Day 128: Pietro Navarra in Porto Cervo, Sardinia

Pietros italyA few year’s back, I had the pleasure of meeting Pietro Navarra in Los Angeles. He’d been in a bookstore, found 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, and liked it so much (I love that Men enjoy it too!), that he wrote to me and said we should meet so I could sign his copy. A delicious dinner at Terroni followed, where I found out about Pietro’s Italy — his wonderful Italian travel company that combines his passions for Italy and the USA. Having grown up in Bologna and traveled in Italy extensively, Pietro creates customized itineraries for travelers, bringing to each one his unique personal touch. His fans call him Mr. Italy, and have come to rely on Pietro’s Italy for their exclusive business trips, personal journeys, or honeymoons, which are unanimously praised as luxurious experiences that immerse travelers in the Wonders of Italy.

I’m so grateful Pietro has joined in to give advice for a Golden Day in Porto Cervo, one of the most exquixite places on the Costa Smerelda (northern Emerald Coast) of Sardinia:

One of the best beaches in Porto Cervo is Romazzino Beach, located towards the north-east of Sardinia’s Emerald Coast. If you want to relax or engage in water activities like diving and snorkeling, you can do it here. Like most of the coastline, the sand here is fine and white, and the water is green and blue. The beach is quite safe, so even families with children can enjoy this beach. For a perfect beach picnic, get some cheese, bread and a delightful bottle of Sardinian wine, and simply relax in these beautiful surroundings.

c4de3ca81cd6992e0622df886154073cOne of the must-visits in the area is the small town of Santa Teresa di Gallura. This is a small town and quiet spot, perfect for those who want to get away from the crowds of Porto Cervo. Most of the town’s attractions can be reached on foot. The beaches are beautiful and ideal for swimming. A short walk will bring visitors to Capo Testa, where there are beaches full of beautiful rock formations. For a more spectacular view, visitors should walk to the edge of Santa Teresa di Gallura, which overlooks the sea and town.c8baa3347480d00193e84f5cdaf0bc57For those who want a fun night out, partying at the Phi Beach is a must! Located in front of Porto Cervo’s 18th century naval fortress, this is one of the best places to enjoy great music, refreshing drinks and delicious food. This is an open-air club that has outdoor bars, making it unique and exciting. During the day, the space is used as a beach club for the hotel nearby. But when the sun sets, it is turns into a free form dance floor where some of the best DJs spin their tracks. Phi Beach Club also has a restaurant that serves Mediterranean dishes and grilled seafood.imagesAn important landmark in Porto Cervo is Capo Ferro. This is a high section of rocky terrain that projects from the sea. It also has a lighthouse on top, ensuring that the rocks are visible during the day or night. Capo Ferro is the first indication that visitors are reaching the town, and this makes it a must-visit attraction in Porto Cervo. Visitors should hire a boat and take it to Capo Ferro. Capo Ferro provides a wonderful view of the sea, along with a glorious view of the town and surrounding areas.ec65e571a5c3324a02bb0b3243ca7b39Stop by Stella Maris Church, This is one of the few historical and architectural sites in Porto Cervo. The church is built in a panoramic area, and is an excellent example of Porto Cervo’s architecture. The interior and exterior of the Stella Maris Church capture the best spirit of Mediterranean art. The church plays host to many classical music concerts, which visitors should experience if they get the chance.Porto-Cervo_Church
If you love dining in an open space with a superb view and excellent food, go to Aqua Bar and Restaurant (Porto Cervo Marina, 07891832033). It’s popular among locals for its magnificent location, where you can admire the Porto Cervo harbor. Customers love to sit by the terrace while sipping their favorite drinks. The beauituful interiors of the restaurant complement the natural background of the sea. It is open daily until 2:00a.m.

CaptureAnother delightful place to eat, a stone’s throw from Porto Cervo, is the Spinnaker Restaurant (07021 Liscia di Vacca, 0789 91226). For thirty years the Spinnaker is a historic meeting place for the Costa Smeralda. You’ll find a convivial place in the restaurant area, where you can sit in the garden terrace or in the cozy dining room overlooking the sea. Here you can enjoy fresh seafood, meats of the best cuts, homemade pasta of Emilian tradition and delicious pizzas cooked in a wood oven. The caffe is a also a popular meeting point, and here you will find the most famous breakfast of the coast.y9e0314-editA wonderful place to stay is Hotel Pitrizza,  an intimate luxurious property, overlooking yet another beautiful view of white sand beaches and turquoise water.Hotel-Pitrizza-Sardinia


 GRAZIE MILLE, Mr. Italy! As these cold winter days approach, Porto Cervo is a beautiful place to be dreaming about…and planning to visit!

Golden Times Driving in Val d’Orcia, Tuscany

View from our window in San Quirico d’Orcia…

Susan Van Allen's Italy, Val d'Orcia, Women's Tours ItalyOUR meaning me and my two sisters. We’d not traveled together since our days as Jersey Girls when Daddy would be at the wheel of the Country Squire Station Wagon and we’d go from West Long Branch, New Jersey to the beach at Cape May where the sand was LIKE AN ASHTRAY!
MANY years later, we rendezvoused at the Rome airport and picked up the keys to a gem-of-a- White Volkswagen from Auto Europe. What I love about this company is that they are partnered with the best car rental places all over Italy, so you get a range of choices for models, the best prices, and always great customer service. As we headed south to our home base of San Quirico Val d’Orcia, I started out driving–
20151013_103145190_iOSBut soon our roles became clear:
Older sister Pam, Driver. Younger Sister Patti, navigator, sometimes driver. Susan Van Allen, Auto EuropeAnd ME in back seat gasping and making sure we pulled over plenty to stop, get out, and take it all in.

Susan Van Allen, Auto EuropeSusan Van Allen, Auto Europe

Having a car is key to discovering the Val d’Orcia, an area so beautiful it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Close to our San Quirico base, was the spa town of Bagno Vignoni, beloved by Romans in Imperial Days–AND it is said Saint Catherine herself took the waters there…
Susan Van Allen, Auto EuropeWe soaked nearby the main square at the Hotel Posta Marcucci==PERFECT stop for a morning of bliss…
Susan Van Allen, Auto EuropeA half hour drive away, we had decliciousness at the revered Osteria La Porta in Montichiello, where Daria Capelli reigns over one of Italy’s best restaurants. The ravioli, garnished with black truffle shavings is legendary.
Susan Van Allen, Osteria Porta, Auto EuropeWe drove over to the hamlet of Montefollonico to take a delightful class at Tuscan Women Cook, where we learned the art of making traditional pici=thick spaghetti from a local signora.
20151012_104802760_iOSWe visited the award-winning Casato Prime Donne winery in Montalcino. It’s entirely run by women and besides the fabulous Brunello wine, there is stunning artwork in the vineyards.
Susan Van AllenOf the many highlights, there was hearing the monk’s chant at Sant’Antimo abbey
20151013_110543370_iOSBuying the best pecorino cheese in Pienza…
20151016_143638787_iOSAnd joining in on the sunset passeggiata along the edge of Pienza’s wall:
THE BALCONY OF VAL D’ORCIA! Where those roads below beckoned us…


For More…
Auto Europe, Susan Van Allen





Golden Day 126: San Pantaleo, Sardinia with Barbara Kossy

bkMany years ago, when I was writing the Active Adventures chapter in 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, I had the great fortune to meet the fabulous, fun-loving Barbara Kossy, a California based Italofile who designs and organizes kayaking tours in Elba, Sicily and Sardinia. She describes them as “Soft adventures. We sleep in a hotel every night and can wash the salt out of our hair before dinner. ” They give travelers a great social experience, meeting kayakers from all over the world, and combine explorations by kayak around the destinations with hiking and great food. Barbara is also inspired by Italian style, and has recently started sewing and touring designer outlets in Naples and Milan.

Here’s Barbara’s advice for a Golden Day in San Pantaleo, Sardinia…

Spend just 1 Euro and in 30 minutes you can reach San Pantaleo by bus from Olbia. The 601 runs every three hours and will drop you right in front of Hotel San Pantaleo.

San Pantaleo is a small arty hill town framed by the rock walls of  “Le Dolomiti” di San Pantaleo.

SanPantaleo by Dave Olson

SanPantaleo by Dave Olson

The walk-able center has a lovely square and church. Around every corner you’ll find another fascinating shop with temping rugs, paintings, clothing, ceramics, and even unique and stylish hammered metal wall sconces.

Sardinia, Golden Days in Italy, Susan Van Allen, Barbara Kossy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Photo by Claudio Desiati and Valentino Musio


Photo by Claudio Desiati and Valentino Musio

The town’s Thursday Market is a large lively scene, popular with locals and full of arts and crafts, local fruit and vegetables, cheese, honey, housewares, and clothing. Not all the fashions are cheap, but are fun and trendy and at better prices than nearby Costa Smeralda Shopping centers.

Sardinia, San Pantaelo, Market, Barbara Kossy, Golden Days in Italy, Susan Van Allen's Italy

Photo by Barbara Kossy

Don’t miss the “Blacksmith of San Pantaleo”, the shop of Davide Salinas, La Bottege del Ferro Battuto (Via Molise, 21, 07020,0789/65414), who actually specializes in beaten metal artwork, some plain and some fancifully painted. If you stop in while he’s there you can watch him work and take a short stairway to his second level gallery.

Photo by Barbara Kossy


Photo by Barbara Kossy

The main road through town can become congested mid-day, so plan accordingly. Sardinia, San Pantaleo, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Susan Van Allen, Barbara Kossy, Kayaking in Italy For a kayaking experience, reserve an Outdoor adventure with Claudio Desiati.(327 195 0909) of Sardinian Discoveries, based in San Pantaleo . He is a licensed adventure guide and offers anything from a day of tranquil kayaking, to snorkeling, SUP, hiking archaeological sites and even Jeep tours. I’ve been kayaking with Claudio for years and appreciate his local knowledge and fun spirit. Kayaking in Italy, Susan Van Allen, Barbara Kossy, Sardinia, San Pantaleo Kayaking in Italy, Barbara Kossy, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go If you are looking for a great place for lunch, stop at Zara Cafe(59 Via Zara | Localita San Pantaleo comune di Olbia, 8852981) Our kayaking group had a hearty meal of local specialties and house cannonau red wine, and by the time we left we felt like part of the family.  Someone wanted to take the chef home with her. Instead we all shared a warm parting hug. When we chose a spot for lunch the next day, it was natural that we returned to Zara.

Or stroll along to Ichnos Pizzaria (Via Zara 54, 078965443)  one of the social centers of San Pantaleo, popular with locals and tourists.  You can enjoy the sublime pizza on an open air terrazza. Be forewarned: Sandrino is the infamous “crazy waiter” of Ichnusa. I was there with a group of seven, helping my monolingual American friends. Ordering was a surreal experience, Be patient and enjoy the dissonance. The pizza will be worth the wait. ristorante-pizzeria-ichnos If you need some down time, sip a crisp prosecco by the pool at Hotel San Pantaleo on a do-nothing afternoon or drive down the hill to the sand sun and sea of Portisco Beach.

San Pantaleo, Sardinia, Kayaking in Italy, Barbara Kossy, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go


San Pantaleo, Sardinia, Barbara Kossy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Photo by Barbara Kossy

Hotel San Pantaleo (Via Zara, 39, 07026, 078965260)  is set apart by distinctive use of wood and stucco that’s modern yet mountain lodge cozy.
Our kayaking group were well taken care of by the helpful staff who served an abundant breakfast featuring fresh local pastries  and fruit. Throughout the lobby area and on the dinner tables you’ll enjoy the clean lines of bowls, plates, and crocks by a local artist. Some are for sale. The walk to the center of town from the Hotel Pantaleo is short, but there’s no need to leave the hotel for dinner. Their restaurant is one of the best around, featuring seafood and local specialties.


The 2016 Kayaking in Sardinia trip starts in Alghero and then ends up in San Pantaleo…

Click here for more info about Barbara Kossy’s Kayaking Adventures in Italy…Andiamo! Barbara Kossy, Kayaking in Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go   I look forward to joining you soon, Barbara!               

Golden Day 125: Ogliastra with Alexandra Redmond of Yoga in Sardinia

alexandraredmond_1391250971_43We’re grateful to have Alexandra Redmond join us to give her expert advice about Ogliastra in eastern Sardinia.  Alexandra is a lover of nature, a vegan, and a yoga  teacher, who moved to the paradise of Sardinia from Brighton, UK. In 2009 she blended her love for the island with her longtime practice of yoga and meditation, and created Yoga in Sardinia, a non-profit organization that offers travelers Yoga and Mediation classes and retreats in Sardinia and an online Stress Management Course for those that can’t attend in person.

We’re grateful she’s joining in with us to share her advice for a Golden Day in Ogliastra:


Here are a few great sights within driving distance of Ogliastra for you to choose from…

 Nuraghe Serbissi – wonderful Nuraghe with caves that run underneath the site and English speaking guides. You need a car to reach it or you can book an excursion as it is a little out of the way and off the beaten track, but it is a stunning site to visit in the heart of the Tacchi D’Oglisatra.
Serbissi 1
 Grotta su Marmuri(Piazzale Grotte sui Marmuri,08040,0782 79859)– spectacular caves and there is usually an English speaking guide. Bring warm shoes and a jacket, it’s 10 degrees in the caves and that is cold when you’ve been in the 30 degree heat of the Sardinian sun!
 Baia Cea(Localita Marina di Cea, 08042 Bari Sardo) A stunning beach with red rock formations jutting from the water. The sea is clear and warm, the beach is fine white sand. It is well serviced with bars and easy to reach by car. Best to visit May, June or September as it gets really busy in August.
Cascate di Coccorrocci(Viale Mons. Virgilio n. 91, 0782221070)
If you are looking for total peace and quiet, take a lovely short walk here to some really pretty, gentle waterfalls and pools. It’s a great place for some silent meditation and contemplation away from all the crowds. You can park at the Campsite and take a walk from there (about 3km on fairly flat terrain) or you can drive directly to within 400m of the waterfalls, however the road is a little terrifying if you are not used to single track lanes with a steep drop!
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For refreshment, go to Baia Cea Bar(Via Alessandro Manzoni, 18, Girasole Provincia dell’Ogliastra,3396337171) behind the palm leaf umbrellas you’ll discover a cool, shaded oasis where the breeze from the sea and views of the red rocks is amazing. Here you can get coffee, apertivo, bar snack, gelato and a wonderful, healing massage with a stunning sea view! Order a refreshing Aperol Spritz or a cool Sardinian Ichnusa and book an aromatherapy massage with a Reiki Master to iron out those tension spasms and tired, achy muscles.
You can enjoy a great meal and stay at the 4-star Abatasar Hotel(Via Porto Frailis, 11)- where they have vegetarian and vegan menus, as well as coeliac options. As always in Sardinia, (as long as you are not vegan), order the Curlugiones which are pasta parcels filled with mint, potato and pecorino cheese, drizzled with tomato sauce and for dessert order the Sebadas (gluten free versions are usually available if you ask)…two local and traditional Sardinian specialities. Vegans visiting Sardinia generally should try to let any restaurants know in advance, they will be able to offer you something lovely, fresh and vibrant, but Sardinians are not generally well versed with the vegan diet and may need a bit of time to think about it!
Or check into the Galanias Hotel and Retreat(Via Belvedere 08042, 78229972) – a lovely hotel 4km from Bari Sardo town, within half a kilometre of the beach of Bari Sardo, which has a Saracen Tower and is the start of a stretch of beach that spans down past Cardedu to Perda Pera, about 8km of beach. They have a fantastic restaurant with seating by the gently lit pool, and the views from the terraces towards the beach and tower are stunning.
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 Grazie Alexandra, for your beautiful advice for this amazing destination!

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